Treating Chronic Pain: Kelly’s Palliative Care Story

When Kelly—a central New Jersey woman in her early 30s—is asked what brings her joy, she doesn’t have to think very hard.

“It’s definitely being with my young son. He’s my world. His smile lights up my life,” says Kelly.

Since she was 12 years old, Kelly has faced an array of medical issues. Over the years, she has dealt with lupus, mitochondrial disease, a clot in her lung and main vein to the heart, and autonomic neuropathy. These issues have caused additional heart and bladder problems, as well as gastropareses, which affects the normal movement of muscles in the stomach. Kelly had done her best to deal with the chronic pain for nearly half her life, but in 2016, the issues became unbearable, and even the smallest task became an issue.

After a ten-month hospital stay, Kelly was desperate to find something to help her pain and symptoms so she could return home to be with her son. That’s when she found palliative care.

What is palliative care?

Palliative care (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) is specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness. This type of care is focused on providing relief from symptoms and stress. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.

Palliative care is provided by a specially-trained team of doctors, nurses and other specialists who work together with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and it can be provided along with treatment.

Kelly was referred to palliative care by her gastrointestinal doctor who recognized the need for this medical specialty. That’s when Kelly met Rab Razzak, a palliative care physician. She had spent years meeting different specialists, but she says this one felt different.

“The difference-maker for me was that from the first meeting, Dr. Razzak and the palliative care team truly listened to me and made it clear that they wouldn’t rest until they had a full understanding of my daily struggle. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to hear that,” says Kelly.

Tackling the pain

After Dr. Razzak gave Kelly a detailed assessment, he determined that some of her pain stemmed from side effects of her medications.

“Proper pain management is an ongoing process,” says Dr. Razzak. “What we do is take a close look at all of the medications and how they are affecting the patient. Sometimes we recommend increasing meds, replacing them, or taking some away so that the patient can live a more active and productive life. It’s all about finding a balance and it takes constant dialogue with the patient.”

In Kelly’s case, Dr. Razzak was able to find a successful balance that alleviated a great deal of her pain. His team also used a targeted pain therapy method called a Scrambler which addressed specific areas, such as in the joints and feet, that were causing Kelly discomfort. These methods allowed Kelly to finally return home from the hospital. She can now spend more time outside with her son and can manage day-to-day tasks.

“Having my pain addressed was an absolute game changer,” says Kelly. “I feel so much less stressed because I can be there for my family in ways I couldn’t before.”

Kelly still sees the palliative care team often as she continues to be treated by her other doctors. Some days she and the team talk about her pain, some days they help her set goals for the future, and some days they are there just to listen and help guide her through whatever bumps in the road come next.

“Kelly is a special person,” says Dr. Razzak. “She made a decision that she wouldn’t let these illnesses be what defines her anymore, and I am grateful that we get to help her every step of the way.”

To find out how you or a loved one can benefit from palliative care, visit GetPalliativeCare.Org

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